My rating: 3 of 5 stars
3.5 instead of 3. Equal parts historical fiction & epic fantasy, Ariosto follows the poet Lodovico Ariosto near the end of his life in Renaissance Italy. Entangled in the deadly politics of the Firenzen court, Ariosto’s perspective is split between the frustrations of his patron Damiano de Medici & the poet’s latest epic about the Nuovo Mundo. Each world is threatened by great conflicting forces & Ariosto strives to live & write despite the pending chaos of each.
Yarbro’s book is one that clicked with me at just the right time. I had just finished rereading Dante’s Commedia so I was prepared for the court intrigue & the flowery style of writing found in the book. I also had a better appreciation for the conflicts of Church & State in Ariosto with Dante’s vision lingering on the edges of my reading as well. With that said, Yarbro’s historical research is evident in the dense world-building that takes up the first third of the novel & it took me some time to get through the material.
But even with the period details slowing me down, the novel truly shines in certain places. First, I loved seeing what another nation would have thought of the New World outside of the typical Anglo Protestant take I’d been taught in school. (Bonus points for figuring out the Italianized versions of Native American tribes like Cérocchi, Pau Attan, and Cica Omini.) Secondly, despite the obvious clues used to outline the courtly intrigue, Yarbro excels at keeping the readers guessing at how much Ariosto understands & how involved he may or may not become over the course of the book. He even tries to convince Damiano that help can come from the New World because his own desperation drives the poet to believe in his own characters.
Ultimately, Ariosto is about an artist living in a fractured, deeply paranoid society & with the current political state of my own country, I found myself moved to tears by an ending that would not have held such poignancy previously. I want to recommend it to anyone willing to give historical fantastical fiction a chance but with Ariosto hitting so many specific associations for me, I’m not sure it would be as powerful for others. If this review interests you though, I hope you’ll give it a try.